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Sviatoslav Richter in Concert
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata in E flat major Op.7 (1797-98) [27.23]
Piano Sonata in C major Op.2 No.3 (1794-95) [26.57]
Piano Sonata in D minor Op.31 No.2 (1802) [23.42]
Piano Sonata in E flat major Op.31 No.3 (1802) [22.20]
Piano Sonata in E minor Op.90 (1814) [12.26]
Piano Sonata in A major Op.101 (1816) [19.12]
Piano Sonata in E major Op.109 (1820) [18.24]
Piano Sonata in A flat major Op.110 (1821-22) [20.31]
Piano Sonata in C minor Op.111 (1822) [23.07]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Piano Sonata in B flat major D960 (1828) [43.56]
Piano Sonata in B major D575 (1817) [24.49]
Piano Sonata in E minor D566 (1817) [20.08]
Piano Sonata in G major D894 (1826) [45.50]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Piano Sonata in B minor S178 (1852-53) [29.56]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Recorded 1965-78
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92229 [5 CDs: 74.30 + 73.32 + 76.01 + 68.39 + 73.23]

 

One needs to play sleuth with some releases from Brilliant Ė especially those derived from licence from Gostelradiofund in Russia. The plethora of Richter releases, both commercially and more problematically off-air or in-concert, has been the cause of a certain amount of confusion, to put it mildly. So it may be helpful to distinguish what you are getting Ė or arenít getting Ė from this set of five live CDs. I should add a rider; Iíve not been able to listen to any previous incarnations, if such exist, of any of these performances and am relying on the written and aural evidence of the performances allied to discographic information and Richterís notes, some of which have been published. Itís a minefield out there for Richter admirers.

Taking things in disc Ė not necessarily opus Ė order and we have the following. Op. 90 claims to be Moscow 10/1/65 but I suspect this may be a typo and that 10/10/65 is meant instead which would place it on the same Moscow concert as Op.110. The concert performance of Op.90 from the latter date has been issued by Russian Masters [RM 17]. If this hunch is wrong then I make this a previously unknown live concert performance. Meanwhile Op.109 from 1972 was once on defunct Revelation RV10096 as was the A flat major Op.110 and Op.111. Op.7 was on a Music & Arts set CD775 [4 CDs], Opp.31/2 and 31/3 have made an appearance on Yedang, and Op.2 No.3 is on that Music & Arts set. Op.101 seems not have been released before. Itís from 10/10/65 and isnít the commercial Philips recording from the following year. Op.101 is again from 10/10/65. I believe this was released, crucially minus its first movement, on Russian Masters. To interject some Liszt we can note that it was taped two days after Op.101 - that means that itís not the same as the 18/10/65 performance that was once on Russian Masters RM05. Finally Ė at last Ė to the Schubert; D960 seems to be 31/11/61 but mightnít it be 13/11/61 which hasnít seen the light of day; D575 is from the 12/10/65 recital already cited and is not to be confused with the 1966 live Philips commercial disc taped in Florence. The Schubert sonatas contained on the last disc are also the most recently recorded Ė they come from May 1978 and I donít believe have ever been released commercially before.

The foregoing demonstrates the complexity of the Richter discography; the questions of attribution, duplication and the like are seemingly never ending but one thing is unarguable and that is the quality of his musicianship throughout the entire length of these five well-filled CDs. Yes, sound can be cramped and airless and Brilliant has preserved enough applause to show that itís a live concert but not enough to allow one to appreciate it; it fades after about four seconds every time. But against that one must measure the playing which is often on a sovereign level. To take some examples almost at random; the tonal verticality he evokes in the first movement of Op.90 and the beautiful sustaining both of tempo and tension in the slow finale of Op.109. This is playing that never postures; its control is absolute or as absolute as it can be. If the recording is clangy, and it is, we can still appreciate the phrasal sensitivity and the accent shaping of a profound mind at work.

Then there is Op.110 which he once said was the only work Iíve played without really wanting to albeit he did admit that his teacher Neuhaus had taught him his singing tone as a result of teaching it to the young Richter. Whether he believed in it or not Ė and he never played the entire canon, he only played twenty-two of the sonatas Ė we can hear the off-kilter Allegro molto second movement and the luminous Fuga, one he builds and sculpts with inexorable logic. Itís hard to reconcile his reported comments on his own performance of Op.111 with the recorded evidence, other than to note that an artist must always strive beyond his own capacities; Iím sure I must sometimes have played this sonata reasonably well but of all the recordings that have been made of it, not one of them is any good. Famously self-critical though he was I find his playing powerfully interior, digitally remarkable, and the Arietta bursts into momentary sunshine like the sudden blaze of a Turner.

One admires too his work in the earlier sonatas; the raindrop drip treble in the slow movement of Op.31 No.2 where the left hand is wrought with rarefied simplicity and apposite weight of touch. Or the grazioso elements of its opus companion, No.3; here he articulates the finale with incredible brightness and briskness The Adagio of Op. 2 No.3 is genuinely introspective and sustained with inexorable control whilst in a late work such as Op.101 the sudden agitato of the second movement March is accompanied by a dramatic heavy booted stomp.

Turn to the Liszt and you hear quite a deal of pedal, and a gloomy, sepulchral opening Ė deliberately opaque and brooding that gives way to great chordal tension. Occasionally there can be a slight lack of differentiation in phrasing but his chords are as deep as a chasm and full of colour. There are some huge contrasts along the way and any slips are minor when measured against his powerful engagement. The driving, introspective and exultant are held in fine equipoise. About his Schubert one may note reservations about the slow opening movements of D 894 and D 960 but not, I think, about the musical mind behind those decisions. I happen to find that of D960 problematic but the intense and affecting slow movement compensates and the Scherzo is full of fresh air and the finale is taken at an incisive clip. There will be similar objections to D894 but that cantabile is, despite its heroic length, sustained with inner logic and conviction, qualities much in evidence in his Schubert playing elsewhere.

The booklet notes are devoted to the music. A brief page about Richter doesnít address any of the discographic questions noted above. And as Iíve mentioned the sound is very variable. But the playing far outstrips considerations of this kind; if you have the Music & Arts 4 CD set you will still need to investigate this one because a large amount here will be new to you. Itís assuredly not the most comfortable place to start oneís Richter quest Ė I wouldnít advise novitiates to start here anyway Ė but to those who admire him it is a profoundly satisfying set.

Jonathan Woolf



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